PROMOTER GENERAL AND GENERAL CHAPTERS
Tasks : The Friars’ General Chapter of Bologna, 1998, Acts. No. 171, recommended that a Promoter General of the Dominican Laity should be appointed to do the following tasks:
- To represent the laity at the international level.
- To encourage contact among the different groups within the Dominican Laity.
- To encourage the laity to form regional and continental organizations.
In addition, the Friars’ General Chapter of Providence, 2001, recommended that the Promoter General should:
- Ensure that lay Dominican groups…be faithful to our genuine tradition…and that they be enlightened and stimulated by Dominican theological creativity…(Acts. No. 445.1).
- Offer them the best possibilities for their formation…(Acts. 445.2).
- Determine the advisability of international encounters of delegates of lay Dominicans together with the Promoters of Dominican Laity. The objective of these encounters would be to seek ways of promoting the laity at national, regional, and international levels; to discern the best structures to achieve this end; and provisionally to designate lay delegates to participate in certain instances in the Dominican Family where they are not yet represented. (Acts. 445.3).
The Friars’ General Chapter of Providence, 2001, also exhorted the promoters of Dominican Laity that:
At local, national, continental, and international levels, they integrate the Dominican Youth Movement in the structures of promotion and organization of the Dominican Laity and the Dominican Family. (Acts. No. 449).
Evaluation of Those Tasks : Since my appointment as Promoter General, which began in September 1999, I have worked to achieve these objectives together with Dominican laity. Following the tasks enumerated above, I would like to report:
- I represent the Dominican laity in many instances at the international level, such as serving on the International Commission of the Dominican Family (Bologna, 149-150 ) and on the Commission for the aggregation of new entities to the Order.
- Over the past 5 years I have continued to support efforts to bring the different Dominican Laity groups into better contact, especially when I participate in various assemblies of the Lay Dominican Fraternities or gatherings of the Dominican Family in different countries.
- The formation of regional and continental organizations has been one of my major tasks over the past years. My efforts have been directed primarily to Lay Dominican Fraternities (LDF, tertiaries), who are the historic form of lay Dominican life and the most numerous. I will mention their organizations below in Part C.
I have also encouraged the newer forms of Dominican lay groups to establish their own regional and continental organizations when applicable, such as the national network of Lay Associates of the Dominican Sisters’ congregations in the USA, or the Dominican Lay Scholars Community.
There has been very little effort to form regional and continental organizations that network all types of Dominican laity . In Lima, Peru, August 2003, the Lay Dominican Fraternities of Latin America converted their continental organization, LAIDALC (Laicado Dominicano de América Latin y el Caribe), into a network that seeks to include all types of Dominican lay groups of that continent. At that time, they elected one of their members, Héctor Madujano (Mexico), to coordinate the establishment of the new LAIDALC. But at the same time, they needed to form a new network for only the LDF groups of Latin America and the Caribbean.
As Promoter General, I urge all Dominican lay groups to be faithful to our genuine tradition and Dominican theological creativity. This is done with the help of Provincial Promoters and good Religious Assistants to each group. The Friars’ General Chapters of Bologna (No. 177) and of Providence (No. 144) provided requisites for acknowledging new groups within the Dominican Family precisely to ensure this adherence to the Dominican tradition. Generally, I find that the Dominican laity groups are working very hard to be authentically “Dominican”.
Formation of Dominican laity is a high priority. In the case of the Lay Dominican Fraternities (LDF, tertiaries), formation is an essential part of their Rule (Nos. 11 – 13) for acceptance of new members and also for the ongoing formation of their permanent members.
Because the new Dominican lay groups are unique, independent organizations from country to country, it is much more challenging to monitor their preparation for Dominican mission. It is necessary that those who are responsible for them guarantee that the Dominican tradition of study and formation are part of their program. Some of them object to having any structure, statutes, formal commitment, or obligatory formation program as a Dominican laity group, which means that their “study” has to be evaluated in different terms. Even so, we must all encourage Dominican laity groups to study and use the best possibilities of formation available. And this must be encouraged especially by the provincials and mother prioresses, the respective provincial promoters, the founders of such new lay groups, and by all those in the Dominican Family most related to them.
The Providence General Chapter’s recommendation that the Promoter General should determine the advisability of international encounters of delegates of Lay Dominicans (Acts 445.3) has been seriously investigated.
As mentioned above in No. 2.iii, LAIDALC aspires to form a network of all types of Dominican lay groups of Latin America and the Caribbean. But very little has been achieved thus far, and certainly delegates have not been convened at an international gathering. No other continent has begun such a project of collaboration among all the different Dominican laity groups.
By comparison, Dominican Sisters International (DSI) seeks to network all 160 congregations of Dominican sisters. It could be a model for what would be Dominican Laity International. However, like the Sisters, the Dominican laity must begin: first with national meetings, then regional structures, and finally international gatherings of delegates. This is slow work, and personally I would advise to not attempt an international encounter of lay delegates yet. I am certain that already there are more than 160 unique kinds of lay Dominican groups throughout the world! But they must first form lay networks among themselves at their national and regional levels.
Having said that, I will explain later in Section C that the Lay Dominican Fraternities (LDF, tertiaries) have called for an international congress to handle internal matters for just their own organization. But that is not for reasons of exclusivity, but simply equivalent to one congregation of Dominican Sisters holding its own General Chapter. This is quite different than an international meeting of DSI or one that includes delegates from other kinds of Dominican lay groups.
In the meantime, I believe the whole Dominican Family should promote vocations to the Dominican laity, and should encourage them to build networks within the Dominican laity branch itself.
The integration of the Dominican Youth Movement (DYM) into the promotion and organization of the Dominican Laity and Dominican Family is also a great challenge from Providence (No. 449). I think much vocational promotion should be done as Family, and therefore, I would like to see the youth and laity included in all the promotion! The International Dominican Youth Movement recommends that there should be local and national DYM teams made up of representatives from each branch of the Family, who together promote and support the youth.
In February, 2003, I attended the Asia Pacific Dominican Major Superiors Conference at which time a new structure was developed to include representatives of each branch of the Family, including a representative of the Dominican youth, which I actively promoted. Likewise, the Dominican Family Assembly of Latin America in August 2003 established a Dominican Family committee with representatives of each branch of the Family including Dominican youth. Some consider DYM to be the 5 th branch of the Dominican Family!
Many Dominican Family structures already include laity and youth at the local and national levels. However, I do not see much Dominican Family structure in place at the continental and international level. As mentioned above in 2.vi, the Dominican lay groups are not networked among themselves yet. As they begin to do so, it would be appropriate to welcome the Dominican youth groups, since they too are laity. However, both IDYM and some laity groups seem to resist each other, and do not necessarily desire to have youth and laity in an integrated structure. Many DYM groups do not encourage their members to join the already established lay Dominican groups, but want to start new lay groups instead.
Additional tasks : Since the last General Chapter, the full-time position of Promoter General of the Dominican Laity has been reduced to part-time, due to my additional appointment as Assistant to the Master for the USA, July 2001.
This change has resulted in some important consequences. Most significantly, the operation and services of the Dominican Laity office has necessarily slowed down, while at the same time experiencing growing demands. This is especially true in terms of communication (phone, e-mail, correspondence) and office administration (filing, maintaining contact lists, updating website, photocopying).
At the same time, the relationship between my two-part time jobs means that I am often out of the Laity office for very long periods of time. A month on the road as Promoter General of the Laity may be followed immediately by another month out of Rome as Assistant to the Master for the USA or to fulfill a task for the Master as canonical visitator. The month-long plenary sessions in May and November, as well as the weekly General Council meetings simply do not permit a regular office schedule for Dominican laity work.
Some important tasks require large amounts of time such as fundraising or writing talks to be delivered. Frequent travel to Dominican laity meetings throughout the world is necessary, but I must decline as many invitations as I can accept, even though all of them believe that the Promoter General should visit their province! All of this indicates that there is more work than a part-time international Promoter could possibly accomplish in a 6-year term! The Laity Office has contracted with a part-time secretary for 6 hours a week, which is still inadequate for the needs that the thousands of Dominican Laity throughout the world have. In general, Santa Sabina does not provide secretaries, translators, fund raisers, etc. for such offices as Dominican Laity.
As Promoter General of the Dominican Laity, I have additional tasks resulting from meetings with other ecclesial lay groups, with the Dominican Team of Promoters and Co-coordinators at Santa Sabina, and with the other branches of the Dominican Family. In the long run, all of this means that the Dominican Laity have a very part-time Promoter General for the many needs that they are facing.
New Dominican Laity : As mentioned earlier, there is a wide variety of lay Dominican groups throughout the world, most of which have appeared only in the last 40 years, as noted also in our recent General Chapter Acts. They can be characterized primarily as follows:
- Groups founded by, or affiliated with, a particular branch of the Dominican Family such as a congregation of Dominican Sisters, e.g. associates, Dominican prayer groups, new fraternities with congregational statutes, youth groups, volunteer groups, etc.;
- Secular Institutes and Consecrated Virgins;
- Formal organizations and pious associations founded by an individual (usually a Dominican) for spiritual or apostolic purposes, e.g. FASTA in Argentina, Dominican Lay Scholars Community in the USA, Kerygma in Malta, etc.;
- Ecumenical and mixed Dominican Family groups, such as Jubilatio in France, Dominican Laity of Speyer, Germany, etc.;
- Confraternities (which actually have a very long history) such as the Rosary confraternities, cofradias of St. Thomas or of St. Martin de Porres in Latin America, etc.
- Alternative Dominican lay groups, such as the Glasgow, Scotland lay fraternity, various lay preaching groups, etc. As the Bologna Chapter observed, there are many of these Dominican lay groups “ who have appeared as alternatives to the traditional Dominican fraternities. In general, these lay people do not primarily desire to integrate themselves into a structure, but to participate in the mission of the Order as individuals or a family aggregated to some community of friars and their work .” (Acts. No. 174).
Lack of attention
I continue to discover more lay Dominican groups along the way, but I confess that I certainly have not been able to devote much attention to them. How they shall relate to one another as the “lay branch” of the Dominican Family is yet to be seen, as I mentioned. Presently, I can only attend to the most numerous and historic group of Dominican laity, who are known as the Lay Dominican Fraternities (LDF), or formerly the “Third Order Secular Dominicans (Tertiaries)”.
LAY DOMINICAN FRATENITIES (LDF)
- Lay Dominican Fraternities (LDFs ): Without having a precise census, one can only estimate that there are over 100,000 laity who have made promises according to the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic (Montreal, 1985; approved by the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, 1987; promulgated by Damian Byrne, OP, 1987). Vietnam alone claims more than 80,000 members of LDFs, which I had difficulty believing until I went and saw it for myself!
- Directory: The LDFs function daily according to an approved, provincial Directory that is to be written by the local LDFs themselves, and which function like local statutes. Many lay provinces have yet to write their provincial Directory and obtain its required approbation from their Provincial.
- Preaching: According to their Rule , LDFs participate in the Order’s apostolic mission through prayer, study, and preaching according to the state of the laity (No. 4). And this aspect of the lay preaching charism continues to be a major emphasis as the LDF’s renew and revive their fraternities or chapters. Their fraternities were not meant to be just prayer groups, nor lay study groups, but rather an integral part of the Order’s preaching mission, as Dominic himself did with laity from the beginning.
- Networks : As General Chapters have urged, the LDFs continue to form regional and international networks of their fraternities. This provides greater communication and formation among the fraternities, who adhere to the same Rule . Specifically, they have formed the following regional networks:
- AFRICA : the Africa Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities (ACLDF) , which includes three smaller zones with elected coordinators;
- ASIA – PACIFIC : which is holding its first Assembly of all LDF presidents of Asia-Pacific entities during August 12 –19, 2004 in Caleruega, Philippines. With this assembly, every continent will then have established a regional network of LDFs.
- EUROPE : the European Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities (ECLDF) which gathers all LDF presidents at an Assembly every 3 years, and at which they elect a 5-member Council. They have already held their VI European Assembly.
- LATIN AMERICA and the CARIBBEAN : the Consejo de las Fraternidades Laicales Dominicanas de América Latina y el Caribe (COFALC) , which includes three smaller zones with elected coordinators;
- NORTH AMERICA : the Dominican Laity Inter-Provincial Council (DLIPC) which rotates its biannual meeting from province to province.
- CLDF : The International Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities(ICLDF) is comprised of one elected member from each of the aforementioned regional networks, serving a 3-year term. At their annual meeting in April, 2004, it was decided to convoke an international congress of LDF representatives in August, 2006, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This Congress will seek to resolve many pending issues that LDFs have since their last congress in Montreal, 1985. One very clear objective is to establish a permanent, international organization so that LDFs can operate as an autonomous, lay Dominican entity within the Dominican Family, collectively, and more effectively year after year.
The Dominican laity have many hopes and dreams and likewise face many challenges. However, since this is a report to the General Chapter of the friars, I would therefore like to offer some challenges, which are more appropriately directed to the friars’ branch of the Family, regarding their relationship to the Dominican laity:
- Promoters and Religious Assistants : According to the Rule of the LDFs, the Provincial Promoter can be a brother or sister. (No. 20.b). Similarly, each local fraternity or chapter should have a Religious Assistant, which may be a brother, sister, or layperson (No. 21.c and additional Declarations). If the principle is followed, then the Promoter General of the Dominican Laity might also be a brother, sister or lay person. In fact, the Bologna General Chapter recommended that this promoter would preferably be a lay person (Acts No. 171).
It seems to me that the need is so great for the Dominican laity everywhere that the friars should search for the best Provincial Promoters, Religious Assistants, and Promoter General—looking beyond the friars to include sisters and laity, in order to name whoever is most suited. Moreover, these appointments ought to be made after consultation with the Dominican laity about the proposed candidates for these positions, as the Rule of the LDFs requires (No. 20.b and 21.c). When naming the Religious Assistant to a fraternity, the Provincial Promoter is to be consulted (No. 21.c). Many of these LDF rules need to be friars’ rules, too.
As IDYM and Dominican Volunteers International have learned, a local team of representatives from each branch of the Dominican Family does the most effective promotion. Therefore, I would recommend that Sisters also name provincial and international promoters to the Dominican laity, and that local fraternities appoint a team with a friar, sister, and lay person to serve together as Religious Assistants to each group. That would be true Dominican Family collaboration and move forward the establishment of a network of all lay Dominican groups. Moreover, many of the new Dominican laity groups, such as the Associates, do not consider the friar promoter to be their promoter, since their groups are often affiliated with another branch of the Family, or basically autonomous. Therefore, joint promoters of both friars and sisters would serve best for all laity.
- Lay Leadership : Whether the Promoter General is a friar or a sister, or one of each, the Bologna General Chapter recommended that it be a lay person (Acts No. 171). I believe the intent was actually to encourage a more autonomous, self-governing Dominican Laity, with a lay person serving perhaps as a Secretary General or the equivalent, rather than as a Promoter General. We should all be promoters of the laity, and I think we should continue to have the role of promoters! But what the Dominican laity also need is their own leadership, organization, staff and offices, at both the local and international levels. The laity need to represent themselves in the Family organizations, rather than have the friar or sister promoters to fill that role for them. The laity, who do not live in community as the other branches of the Family, have all the more reason to need an office, a phone, the basics of an organization, in each province.
If not, it is hard to believe that they truly exist as an ecclesial organization rather than as an informal movement. My challenge then is primarily directed to the Provincial Promoters and Religious Assistants to help the laity organize themselves and “run their own show” with qualified leaders. It is not the role of the friars and sisters to control the laity or do everything for them. Nor should they abandon them, and not offer any help at all.
- Laity in the Preaching Mission: I challenge the friars and the whole Dominican Family to include the Dominican laity as more equal partners in our common preaching mission. The very task of preaching and pastoral evangelization would indicate that Dominicans cannot afford to not work with laity! We need everyone to help spread the Good News and help go out to all the world in every context in order to “get the Word out”. Many provinces are simply missing out on not having Dominican laity joining them in common prayer, common study, sharing in supportive friendship in order to do better preaching together as Family. I generally find that Dominican laity study their faith much more than the average Catholic, and would be a great asset to the rest of the Dominican Family, if they were more included in our common preaching project.
- Family or Laity: It is still important to clarify the difference between Dominican Family and Dominican Laity . They are not the same thing! Likewise, the difference between the Promoters of the Dominican Family and Promoters of the Dominican Laity . They are not the same roles! Some provinces have seen fit to name only one friar for both roles, but unfortunately this has usually resulted in the neglect of the Dominican laity specifically. This may be occurring because the Dominican laity numbers are small, or when there are few friars available for many tasks. But again, appointing a Sister or a joint team of friars, sisters and laity to promote Dominican laity, would serve better than appointing only a Promoter of the Dominican Family, but not an additional Promoter of the Dominican Laity.
It is a great privilege to serve as Promoter General of the Dominican Laity, and I have often joked that it is the best job you could get at Santa Sabina. Since I should finish my term as Promoter General before the next General Chapter, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank both fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, and fr. Carlos Azpiroz, OP, for the confidence they have place in me and for the honor of working with them as Masters of the Order. There is no end to the thanks that I owe to the Dominican laity throughout the world for the experience of working for and with them for the good of the Holy Preaching!
fr. Gerald Stookey, OP
Promoter General of the Dominican Laity