Fr. David Szatkowski, SCJ, a member of the US Province formation team, along with Fr. Tom Knoebel, president-rector of Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, are in Rome this week for a meeting of Dehonian rectors and formators from around the world. Fr. David writes about the start of the gathering:
This morning (April 16) we spent time introducing ourselves and the entities that we represent. There are members of the conference from every continent. The languages being used are Italian, French and Spanish, with translation being provided.
We spent some time in language groups. The English language group included formation directors from India, Indonesia, Venezuela, Germany and the United States. We looked at two questions: the role of interculturality in formation today and how the various entities help to support the formation of brothers.
I found it interesting that every formation house represented has members of more than one culture and language in it, India having multiple languages and cultures in the same country. All of the formation directors spoke about how internationality is great blessing. By being introduced to cultures in initial formation, students are able to have a richness of experience of culture, language, and ministry that would not be otherwise possible.
We also spoke about the challenges of an intercultural formation program. One of the most obvious was the question of common language. When a student first comes to a formation program outside his own culture, it is an adjustment for the student to live, think, and be formed in the new culture. And it is a challenge to the receiving community to help the student adjust to a way of living and studying that is different. There is also the challenge to accept the culture of the student.
We spoke about elements of formation. Not surprisingly, many elements were common. Included among these were meetings with formation directors, spiritual directors, and community meetings. The challenge for formation directors of every culture and entity is to find culturally appropriate ways to help the student open himself to the community and reveal who he is. Another common theme was the necessity of helping students feel secure revealing their growing edges and weaknesses to the formation director without fear of being rejected.
The formation directors all spoke about what a joy working with our students is. Many directors found that their community was more lively because of the students, and horizons were expanded due to the presence of multiple cultures. The commonality of experiences was affirming. The same challenges we face in the United States are being faced in other countries. I believe this conference can help us by exchanging ideas, re-shaping how we view intercultural formation, and encouraging us to enter with trust into the open mind, open heart that the Congregation is calling us to form among ourselves.