(Mr. Ruben Pace is the Secretary General of the lay celibate organization, Society of Christian Doctrine, Malta.)
Verbum Dei caro factum est
The SDC was founded in Malta by a diocesan priest, St George Preca (1880 – 1962) in 1907.
He defined the specific charism of the “Society of Christian Doctrine” within the Church as that of celibate, lay people who through on-going formation are well-formed in the Christian way of life and Catholic faith. Thus, through their life in the world they can witness prophetically and render a life-long apostolate of catechesis and faith formation to children, youths and adults. Thereby they seek holiness and glorify God.
The vernacular name of the SDC in Malta is M.U.S.E.U.M. an acronym: Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus. (Teacher, may the whole world follow the Gospel.)
The acronym arises from a heart of a Founder who is ablaze with missionary zeal even though he never travelled outside the Maltese islands. (Possibly due to his ill health(??) . Yet, he instilled this zeal in the first members who opened several Centres in different parts of the archipelago within a few years.
In the fifties, this vision of spreading the Gospel in the whole world started becoming a reality as the first members accompanied several Maltese who emigrated to Australia.
Eventually in the eighties and the following decades the SDC spread to Africa, (Sudan (El Obeid 1983 – 2004) and Khartoum (1985? – 2009); Kenya (Ruiru (1989) and Mpeketoni (1991 – 2006)); to other European countries ((London (Brixton 1988); Albania (Korce (1993) and Durres (2016); Poland (Poznan 2010) and in the first decade of this century to South America (Perù (Lurin (2003) and Carabayllo (2017), and Cuba (Sagua la Grande).
Still inspired by the dream that ‘the whole world follows the Gospel’, the SDC is actively pursuing possibilities of sending members to the Philippines and to USA.
Going forth to other countries
The relatively short experience of the SDC’s presence outside Malta shows that the Lord provided several ways for the SDC to spread to different countries.
As already mentioned, SDC members accompanied Maltese migrants to Australia.
In other countries, the SDC responded to direct invitations from the local Bishops.
Maltese missionary priests and religious, most of whom received faith formation in the SDC Centres when still young, also played a role in inviting the SDC to other countries.
The SDC arrived in other countries through local lay people who came to know the SDC and firmly believe that it can help the local church to continue spreading the Good News.
On the other hand, the SDC went to Albania as part of a national response to the plight of the people in Albania following the fall of the communist regime.
In all cases, members of the SDC Administration team visit the identified Diocese and parishes beforehand. Contacts with local Church authorities, generally the Ordinary, are established. Generally 2 – 3 visits held prior to sending members.
As the SDC is an organisation of the public right and has no pontifical approval yet, it seeks permission to establish itself in a particular Diocese from the local Bishop.
Living the SDC vocation in another country
When establishing ourselves in another country, we do so as lay people. There are 4 main steps in the process:
- A residence for the members
The first issue to be addressed is finding a residence for SDC members to live. Bishops who invited the SDC to their diocese, very often offered a residence for the members to settle in.
Religious often supported the SDC, with members often living in the same compound or convent e.g. with the Comboni Fathers in Sudan, with the Franciscan Capuchins in Kenya and with the Dominicans in Durres, Albania.
Sometimes the local parish priests host the SDC members in the presbytery. (e.g. Brixton, UK and Poznan)
In other times the SDC rented a place for members to live (current situation in Puente Piedra, Perù)
Although members are not asked to live together, they do tend to do so for practical purposes. A community of members does not follow the timetable of a religious community with set time for prayers etc. However, members do tend to gather together during meal times.
Eventually the SDC always seeks to purchase its own property to serve both as a residence and as its Centre dedicated for faith formation. Besides the private residence area, a Centre needs to include areas for formal faith formation sessions, others for sports and informal meetings and a chapel for prayer and celebrations.
Catechesis in Poland
The second step is to learn the local language and to start getting accustomed to the local culture.
Members thus enroll in courses to learn both, just like any lay person would do. Hence courses in language schools or universities are followed.
The lay dimension of the SDC vocation implies that members are to be gainfully employed. This would allow the member to support himself, the SDC community and the SDC apostolate as well.
Finding employment often proves to be challenging depending on the economic situation, the standard of living of the country and local employment laws. In this regard the SDC has been supported by both religious and Bishops who often offered employment to members within Church institutions and schools.
When members are not able to work or when the salary they earn is not enough to meet their needs (both personal and apostolate), the General House supports them. Most of the income of the SDC comes from donations by the members themselves. It also receives donations from other benefactors. The SDC does not do any fund-raising activities, nor does it accept remuneration for its apostolate.
- Setting up the SDC apostolate
The SDC collaborates with the parish priests.
Apostolate is coordinated with local parish priests. Often, we are asked to help in the Rite of Christian Initiation programs.
Eventually the seeks to set up its own dedicated Centre for faith formation. Whilst still helping a lot in the catechetical program of the parish, its aim is to establish continuous formation of the young, particularly during the post-confirmation years. The SDC also hopes that some of the locals would then accept the call to embrace the SDC vocation.
Most of faith formation is carried out with children and teens. However, SDC members are also involved in faith formation of adults.
Setting up our own dedicated Centre for faith formation is often a challenging step as some Bishops and parish priests do not fully grasp the lay dimension of the SDC charism. It is not easy for some to accept the idea that faith formation does not take place during school hours in the parish school or during Sunday school in the parish premises. This is not easy for parents either.
The faith formation programs followed vary depending on the Diocese. Sometimes faith formation program is set by the Diocese, in others the members set up the faith formation program. In Peru and Cuba, the faith formation program compiled by our members is now being used in several parishes.
We also collaborate in formation of catechists. This is very strong in Perù and Cuba were members are regularly asked to share their experiences and deliver talks on different aspects of catechesis. Members in the UK publish resources online and an online newsletter for catechists (Echo). In Malta, the SDC has been publishing of a bimonthly journal (Gwida għal min Jgħallem) for catechists for more than 60 years.
Link with religious communities
The SDC establishes links with the local religious communities in the parish or in the area. So SDC members participate in fraternity meetings and Sunday night gatherings.
This not only helps the members’ wellbeing as they build meaningful friendships but it also allows sharing of experiences. The SDC has learnt a lot from the expertise of other congregations who have more experience in the missions than the SDC. This was particularly true in Sudan, where the SDC learnt a lot from the Maryknoll Fathers and in Australia and Peru where the SDC was supported by the MSSP fathers. (Missionary Society of St Paul).
Missionary formation of members
Ongoing formation for SDC members is part and parcel of the SDC vocation. The General Households courses in missiology for members to continue sustaining the flame of missionary zeal.
The first part of the course offers formation in the basic elements of Missiology and any member can participate.
The second part of the course is open for those members who envisage that they will be in a Centre abroad within the next 10 years. Here issues related to living the SDC vocation in a different culture are dealt with.
The third and last part of formation is specific for those members who have actually been chosen to go abroad. (Sometimes in involves accompanying the member on an individual level.) Here, specific issues are addressed with particular reference to the country where the member is being sent.
Throughout the course the SDC seeks the help of religious who deliver talks and reflections on the subject matter and others, who share their experience. The latter are often retired missionaries, or missionaries who happen to be on vacation in Malta.
Experiential formation is also important. Thus, any SDC member can ask for the possibility of spending a number of weeks in one of the Centers other than that in his country.
A 2-3-week experience is included in the formation course for candidates, i.e. the young people currently in formation to become members.
Members & Youths – Kenya Centre
Choice of members to go abroad
Members who wish to go abroad are invited to write a letter to the Superior General informing him about their wish. Members would generally have gone through a discernment process with their spiritual director prior to writing this letter.
The Superior General, following consultations, will then hold individual meetings with the member. SDC aims to have a minimum of three members in each community.
Catechesis activity in Cuba
SDC’s response to a culture where God may be perceived as irrelevant.
Deculturation: the SDC mode of apostolate evolved within Maltese culture. Challenges include a high mobility of young people in formation which is less of a challenge in Malta due to the small size of the country. (27 km x 14.5 km)
Recruiting new local vocations. Till date the vast majority of SDC members are Maltese or are descendants of Maltese families. Very few members who are not Maltese or have no Maltese connection.
Lack of vocations: Sustaining members and strengthening all Centres. Dilemma between continuing apostolate in Malta, a country that is becoming more secular, and establishing SDC presence abroad.
The lay nature of the SDC: not easy for people, even persons within the Church; to perceive how a celibate lay person, is neither a priest nor a brother and lives a particular vocation without professing any vows. (Religious consecrated persons seem to grasp more the idea of having a lay society where members live a particular charism).
Each missionary experience has enriched the SDC.
Every missionary experience is a tangible sign that the SDC vocation can be lived in different countries, circumstances and cultures. It has helped us appreciate the universal nature of the SDC vocation. It has also allowed us to understand and interpret our charism better.
Every Centre in every country is a sign that the SDC is alive and growing, even if growth is accompanied with growing pains.
We are blessed to have the opportunity to share our charism within the local church, thus enriching it with yet another gift of the Holy Spirit.
We are blessed with the presence of every child, every young person and every adult whom we accompany in his journey of faith. In him we behold the face of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Prayer For The Missions
O God, Father of the blessed Jesus Christ, as exhorted by your Son, we ask you to send workers to teach those who are in the ignorance of faith, that these poor people come to know you, the only true God, and the same Jesus Christ, whom you have sent in the World as its Savior.
We know that you want all people to be saved, and we also know that one can do nothing without your grace; therefore, full of trust, we call upon us your holy Name.
Only one thing is necessary for us: salvation of our souls, and we shall truly save our souls if you look at us as objects of your mercy.
Knowing that you are always merciful and forgiving consoles us, and so we entrust our spirit into your hands. To you alone and always all honor and all glory, o Omnipotent God. Amen.