MESSAGE FROM THE BROTHER GENERAL ANIMATOR
Dear Brothers, members of the Nazarene Fraternities, Aspirants Brothers, Educational Communities, Christian Communities, Catechists and friends of the Sa-Fa Family:
It is with great joy that I address to you my annual greetings on the occasion of the feast of our Founder, Venerable Brother Gabriel Taborin. The reason for this joy that I share with you is the beginning of the celebration of the 225th anniversary of the birth of Brother Gabriel and the 200th anniversary of his definitive departure from Belleydoux when, at the age of 25, the young Gabriel decided to found a Congregation, took the religious habit and began the mission of educator, catechist and liturgical animator on a continuous basis.
We open a year of celebration on Venerable Brother Gabriel to remember and learn from these events that we have mentioned. The commemorative year will begin on 24 November 2023 and end on 24 November 2024.
Renewing and increasing closeness and empathy with Brother Gabriel
We recall that Brother Gabriel was born on 1 November 1799 in the village of Belleydoux, at a time of social and political revolution when Christianity was persecuted. “I have the consolation of having been born of a virtuous father and mother who were united and lived according to God. They enjoyed a quiet and Christian modest welfare, the fruit of their labour. They spent their working life in Belleydoux, … where I had the good fortune to receive Holy Baptism” (Review history).
When we join in the celebration of a birthday, we renew and increase our closeness and empathy with the celebrants. They become part of our world and we become attuned to who they are. Each new friendship brings us something of human richness, something that helps us to grow. So celebrating Brother Gabriel’s birthday brings us something special because he becomes someone important to us who enhances and strengthens who we are.
What we know of his family, of his people and of what he did to found our Congregation facilitates the global understanding of what his life was. Reading his life with human and faith sensitivity opens us to experiences we can identify with. Often, we compare what he lived with our own experiences, as if we find something similar deep down, and that helps us to understand the pedagogy of God to make himself present in the life of each person. Perhaps you too have this feeling.
Recalling the life of Brother Gabriel is for us an exercise of memory and esteem in an atmosphere of shared joy in the Sa-Fa Family. It is an occasion to thank the Lord for his person and for having chosen him to raise up the Sa-Fa charism in the Church. Knowing and deepening our appreciation of Brother Gabriel’s life will help us to illuminate what we live in our own situations, often not so different from his.
If the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it bears much fruit.
We also celebrate the 200th anniversary of the departure of the young Gabriel from Belleydoux and the important decisions and events that took place in that year of 1824. It was a year of grace for him. In the preceding years he had managed to open a school in his own village with considerable success, but that was not enough for him, and he decided to leave Belleydoux to enter a religious congregation in Lyon. This was his initial idea; however, in the moments leading to this entry, a series of events and people, guided by the hand of God, changed the direction of his life.
Before entering religious life, Gabriel went to Saint-Claude to bid farewell to his friends. There, the bishop’s secretary proposed him to stay temporarily in the bishop’s palace as a valet to Bishop de Chamon. The latter, observing that Gabriel was sometimes pensive, asked him one day about his preoccupation and Gabriel confessed to him that he wished to enter a congregation as a religious. “Then the worthy Prelate said to us in an inspired tone: “You yourself will be the one to form this work, God is calling you to it; you will begin it here” (Historical review). Thus began to take shape for Gabriel his new path.
At this point, young Gabriel’s enthusiasm and courage began to set in motion a project for which he was not yet ready. After a week’s retreat in the neighbouring parish of Les Bouchoux, he took the religious habit with five other companions. “That day was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and consoling of my life; the memory of it is very dear to me and has never faded from my heart” (Testament). For him it is not a romantic memory but the expression of his choice of life: “the day I took the habit, I had sincerely sworn to belong to God forever, and nothing could keep me from this state of predilection: I would have preferred to lose my life” (Testament).
We see in Gabriel’s life that the fact of going out of what he had already achieved, of taking risks and letting himself be led by the voice of the Lord opened him to a new universe, an intense life where God and he go hand in hand. From this point on, his life was not easy; on the contrary, we can say that the sufferings and joys he experienced can only be understood from the wisdom of the Gospel: “He who gives his life for me will find it” (Mt 10:39), “If the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
His total dedication to God implied the mission and it was Bishop de Chamon who entrusted him with the direction of a school in Saint-Claude, 34 Rue de la Poyat. He, who had seen the spiritual and Christian decadence of his time after the revolutionary period, now had the opportunity to work to strengthen the Christian faith and regenerate society. We see in him an example of commitment that is also key in our time.
But the works of God always go through the crucible of purification, and soon the difficulties came. Brother Gabriel himself remembers them in this way: “My five companions, although bold at heart, were discouraged by some vain human considerations and left me alone with one Brother, in charge of almost three hundred pupils, with the service of the cathedral and the care of our little home. I endured this first humiliating trial with great resignation, saying to myself: if this work comes from you alone, it will surely be a stillborn work; but if it is God’s work, he will know how to sustain it against all odds”. Faith and trust in God guided and sustained him.
The steps taken are not in vain but are necessary to set in motion a project that will take shape over time and that has continuity with us. We are heirs of a life and a mission begun by Brother Gabriel which has continued with the generous dedication of so many Brothers and which today continues to live thanks to the vocational response of many Brothers and lay people.
In mission today with Brother Gabriel
We are called to give continuity to this mission in a different era and in different cultures. This year we have opened a mission community in Pangkalan Bun (Borneo Island) and another in Noemuke (Timor), both in Indonesia, as well as a new technical college in Tamalé (Ghana). These are signs of the vitality of Brother Gabriel’s work. Each one of us can also give more life to the mission entrusted to us, but we must walk together.
We want to remember this year the beginning of Brother Gabriel’s work in a community dedicated to the mission. Although he failed in his attempt, this was the beginning of the long journey of the mission lived by the Congregation up to the present day. Therefore, the Motto we have given ourselves for this year is: “IN MISSION TODAY WITH BROTHER GABRIEL”, trying to revive and revitalize the commitment to the mission that the whole Sa-Fa Family has and that must begin with each one of us.
At this time of revitalisation of the Institute, the figure of Brother Gabriel and the mission are two motivating references for us to live our human and faith commitments. I wish this year to be a year full of blessings for all and a motivation for the human, spiritual and community growth of the Sa-Fa Family within the ongoing process of revitalisation.
Happy Founder’s Feast!
Bro. Francisco Javier Hernando de Frutos, AG