An interview of the Master of the Order by Victoria Cardiel for Alfa&Omega (SEMANARIO CATÓLICO DE INFORMACIÓN, Del 14 al 20 de enero de 2021, No 1.197, Edición Nacional, www.alfayomega.es)

On January 6 the Order of Preachers opened its Jubilee Year on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the death of St. Dominic; it will end on the Solemnity of the Epiphany in 2022. The Master of the Order, a brother of the Province of the Philippines, Gerard Francisco Timoner, details the Alpha and Omega of the evangelizing impulse of this event.

Gerard Francis Timoner III was elected on 13 July 2019 as the new Master of the Order of Preachers, becoming the 88th successor of St. Dominic. The 52-year-old religious, born in the Philippines, thus became the first Asian Master of the Order. In 2014, Francis appointed him to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.

1.       The theme of the jubilee celebrations is “At the table with Saint Dominic”. Why did you choose this title?

It is inspired by a painting kept in the parish church of the Mascarella in Bologna (Italy), a panel on which the first portrait of St. Dominic was painted shortly after his canonization. We celebrate St. Dominic not as a saint who is isolated on a pedestal, but as a saint who enjoys communion at table with his brothers, gathered by the same vocation to preach the Word of God and to share God’s gift of food and drink. The Jubilee Year invites us to ask ourselves: What does it mean for us to be at table with St. Dominic here and now?

2. How could I respond?

The mission of the Order is to help build the communion of the Church, the Body of Christ, as St. Francis and St. Dominic did at a time when the Church was in dire need of a “new” evangelization in the 13th century. We are only “assistants”. The main “builder” is the Trinitarian God, model and source of communion. Our mission and fraternal communion together constitute our nature, because we are friars preachers. To be realistic, diversity and differences among the friars sometimes weaken communion. But this, too, can be part of our prophetic service to the Church and to society: it is possible to have differences and still be brothers and sisters; it is possible to disagree without breaking communion.

3. How will you celebrate it?

With simplicity and silence, as a manifestation of the love and solicitude of the Lord for Saint Dominic and for the Dominican Family, which has been alive for more than eight hundred years. The General Council decided to reduce to a minimum the events that had been planned. We were forced to cancel the art exhibition and the pilgrimages (which we will propose virtually on https://dominicus800.op.org/pellegrinaggio/). But all the important Eucharistic celebrations will be carried out, while respecting the health restrictions.

4. Why is Saint Dominic still relevant today?

Our Order has an essential intellectual mission, that of preaching the ‘Veritas’, which is also an important antidote to another pernicious pandemic that has broken out in our society: fake news and half-truths that are, in fact, half lies. If we want to spread the Gospel in our secularized world, we have to be in the midst of the people. This means that we must also be willing to cross linguistic, cultural and even ideological borders in order to spread the Word of God.

5. As Master of the Order, how have you lived through the pandemic?

The quarantine obligation and the lockdown of many cities have opened the door to despair and loneliness for many. These measures must be respected for ethical and scientific reasons, but they seem to contradict our pastoral instincts to be among the people. It is true that there is no substitute for human presence, but we have found other ways to be with others. Times of crisis are the most fruitful for creativity. For example, in 1629, during the plague in Italy, Br Timotheo Ricci created the Perpetual Rosary in the convent of the Dominicans in Bologna. Many of our friars have written biblical and theological reflections on the various facets of the pandemic.

6. How can faith be revitalized in a Europe that is becoming less and less devout?

It is often said that in Europe the Church is seen as a ‘tired old’ institution, and this is why many young people are not encouraged to learn about the life and history of Catholicism. In 2019 I met a young European friar who enthusiastically shared the story of his vocation with me. I learned that his parents, although Catholic, had not had him baptized. But when he grew up he found the meaning of life in the Church. He received formation and finally asked to be baptized. While listening to his vocation story, I asked myself, how many young people are like this friar? It is may be that many young people are not leaving the Church; how could they leave if they have never been in it? If there are few young people in the church, it is probably because their parents decided not to take them to church. In a way, we can say that Europe is a ‘mission territory’. That is why Pope Francis calls us to rediscover our vocation as ‘disciples on mission’.