Letter to the National Presidents
and Assistants of the Militia of the Immaculata
The year 2004 marks the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which Blessed Pius IX solemnly proclaimed on December 8, 1854. The anniversary goes well beyond the ecclesiastical community, and it is a particular reason for rejoicing and an occasion for active involvement especially for the Franciscan Order, for the members of the Militia of the Immaculate, for institutes of Kolbean inspiration. It is because of a reawakening of the values of our inheritance as a family that we can say - without triumphalism but with responsibility - that this dogma particularly belongs to us. It calls us back to the Marian roots of the experience of St. Francis of Assisi, to the richness of thought of the Franciscan school and, still closer, to the great lesson of St. Maximilian. It would be Father Kolbe who, developing the acquired learning of our theologians, would pass from thought to action, from believed truth to lived truth, focusing in the Immaculate his own ideal of life, his theological horizon, his apostolic zeal, his martyrdom, and offering to the Order and the Church the M.I. project as "an overall vision of Christian life under a new form, consisting in the bond with the Immaculate, our universal Mediatrix before Jesus" (SK 1220, p. 2129).
It is in the light of such a witness by works and doctrine that we must come to:
- commemorate the event
- celebrate the mystery
- assimilate its truth.
This is the point: assimilate the truth. While it is relatively easy to organize commemorations and pre-arrange celebrations, it is not as easy to undertake that active and laborious process of reflection, thorough study and inner appropriation to the point of tuning in, with a consistent mind, heart and action, to a lifestyle of higher spirituality and more generous and effective pastoral and social service. The Franciscan school has given a determining contribution to the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which St. Maximilian sees as a "project", as the "first page", that which introduced our history. "Now we move on to the following page, to the content itself - he writes - to the battle to lead souls to the Immaculate" (SK 991 S, p. 1733). Therefore, we live in the time of realizing this, at the time of the second page of our historical task. "The project - underpins - is always in view of the construction of the house" (SK 486, p. 990). To carry out the project means "sowing this seed in the hearts of all those who live and will live until the end of time and to see to its increase as well as the fruits of sanctification. To introduce the Immaculate into the hearts of all, so that She raise in them the throne of Her Son, lead them to know Him and inflame them with a love for His most Sacred Heart" (ivi). An apostolic vision of great breadth and of radical commitment which allows no compromise.
In a complex and difficult context, how is all this possible today for the individual countries of different continents? Indeed difficult for the peoples of Europe, who, although they were capable of passing into law their economic and monetary union, nevertheless are unable to ratify in their constitutional charter the Christian fact of their very origins, in itself, simply an objective historical and cultural value, over and above any ideological opposition.
In the very name of Father Kolbe and inspired by his example, the members of the Militia of the Immaculate are called to work with creativity and unity, making their talent and energies available, while wisely combining Church teaching, Kolbean inspiration and environmental concerns. Certainly, we ourselves are not responsible for the fate of society. But we cannot exempt ourselves from the personal and collective responsibility for a spiritual reawakening and for social action as a sign of a fruitful evangelical witness. Father Kolbe write: "Our feast is approaching, the feast of the Immaculate [in 1937]. The most ardent fervor can, with time, become cold. At times, the daily worries and preoccupations suffocate the most sublime ideals. Rather, even the highest realties gradually depreciate. In fact, the weakness of the limited human nature is such that more recent impressions overpower the more distant ones, even though the latter are rather more important. As a consequence, even we, knights of the Immaculate, must shake ourselves from time to time, we must reflect on ourselves, deeply ask ourselves to know if we are serving the cause of the Immaculate with enough care, beg forgiveness from Her for negligence and indifference, ask help for the future, dedicate ourselves more eagerly in work with the aim of making up a hundredfold by our fervor for the time lost. What must we do, therefore?" (SK 1218, p. 2124). In the first place, he proposes renewing the consecration, but without limiting ourselves to this. "We will multiply the prayers, the sacrifices. We will pray to Her often to illuminate us regarding what we must undertake and how we must work" (SK 1218, p. 2127).
With full respect for the freedom and originality of each person, I would like to suggest some idea and orientation for action:
1. To live the spirit of the consecration and have it relived. How? Indicate concrete initiatives.
2. To review the patrimony of the recent international Congresses: San. Massimiliano e la Nuova Evangelizzazione [St Maximilian Kolbe and the New Evangelization] (Niepokalanów 1994); Il volto attuale della M.I. [The Face Today of the M.I.] (Brasilia 1998); Masimiliano Kolbe nel suo tempo e oggi. Approccio interdisciplinare alla personalità e agli scritti [Maximilian Kolbe in His Time and Today: An Interdisciplinary Approach to His Personality and Writings] (Rome 2001). These are texts which offer an invaluable richness for knowing and assimilating the doctrinal and theological foundation of the M.I. Rather concrete, for example, is the initiative of Niepokalanów, which is preparing for 2004 the Polish edition of the volume Massimiliano Kolbe nel suo tempo e oggi.
3. In particular, I invite the National Assistants to make known, and put into practice, the Statutes of the Association. The pamphlet of the Statutes is available at our International Center in Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish.
4. Finally, let us launch the idea of a big international get-together at Lourdes in September 2004. A pilgrimage, a prolonged meeting for prayer of the various M.I. groups representing the different continents. It would be wonderful for all of us to meet together at the foot of the grotto of Lourdes to raise our Magnificat of praise and thanks to the Lord and to express our gratitude to the Immaculate with the heart of St. Maximilian. It would be an ecclesiastical activity, part of the official program of the liturgical activities of the Marian Sanctuaries of Lourdes, whose pastoral theme for 2004 is suggested by Psalm 72:26: "God is the rock of my heart." I am attaching the text of the outline signed by His Excellency Jacques Terrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, sent to the various pilgrimage directors. It is a plot, an outline which, entrusted to the creativity of individual directors, or Presidents and Assistants, offers suggestions for reflection and a spiritual itinerary so that the Lourdes pilgrimage, including the arrival and departure, be a symbol of an interior and concrete journey that, with Mary the Immaculate, leads every day to a meeting with Christ, the Eucharist Bread. Our intention is to stay two or three days at Lourdes during the period that we will set between September 3-15, 2004. I will send other practical details later. In the meantime, I urge the individual Assistants and Presidents to prearrange, favor and support the initiative, which ought to be taken care of and coordinated by every National Center M.I. It would be wise to rely on a good travel agency to find and book food and lodging.
"A great sign of hope - John Paul II affirms in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa - is constituted by so many witnesses of the Christian faith. They appear to us as a light for the Church and for humanity because they have made the light of Christ shine in the darkness" (n.13).
Evident to us is the reminder of the witness of St. Maximilian.
With heartfelt fraternity.
Fr. Eugenio Galignano, OFM Conv.
International President and Assistant MI