It is said that bishops do not belong anymore to their religious communities. That might be true but the fact is that you don't do away with a spirit and with a call that made you who you are today.
Though being now a bishop, the family of the Consolata Missionaries feels that we still belong and we are all deeply happy to be able to be together. I've seen this happening in any part of the world I have been in the last five years.
This time it was Portugal.
Every year, the friends of the Consolata Missionaries gather in Fatima for a day of prayer. It was the 24th Pilgrimage of the Consolata Family to Fatima. It is celebrated around the feast of our founder: Blessed Joseph Allamano.
Knowing I'd be in Rome in February, Fr Antonio Fernandes IMC (Regional Superior in Portugal) invited me to preside the Mass of the day. I honestly felt he had forgotten that I do not speak Portuguese. It is also said that “Spanish speaking people” do not learn it well... He had not forgotten and he insisted I try my best to be there.
Arriving in Portugal (I had attended some meeting while serving in Rome between 2005 and 2008) I experienced once again the lovely fraternal spirit of our missionaries and the joy of seeing each other again.
Fr Jose Torres Neves whom I had met for the first time in Argentina in … 1979 (he was working in Machagai, Chaco at that time) was in charge of helping me practice the reading of the Mass and the homily in Portuguese. He is a great teacher I must say. He pointed out similarities and differences with Spanish and Italian.
Fr Antonio took me around Lisbon to visit the different IMC communities. I was impressed at their simple lifestyle. They have organised small missionaries communities in poor areas, renting a small flat where everything is shared. As usual... we could not find the missionaries at home because of their pastoral responsibilities. We did meet a Consolata Sister working at adult learning facility.
Friday evening we arrived in Fatima. Saturday morning through the window I saw buses arriving at our house. I was told that nearly 100 buses from all over Portugal arrived that morning.
Fatima is Fatima and the history of the Consolata Missionaries in Portugal is deeply linked to her. It is a place of prayer and advocation that has spread all over the world. Not sure which other one is so much present in every country and continent as Fatima.