From January 17th through the 21st, over 600 members of the Dominican Family from all over the world joined together to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the order, to reflect on the past and think towards the future mission of the order. The congress brought together people of all different walks of life, languages, cultures, ages, ideas and beliefs. All parts of the Dominican Family were present in order to discuss and reflect on the theme phrase “Sent to Preach the Gospel.” The conference aimed not to answer questions, but to create conversation and spark contemplation and to generate new questions about what mission means in the 21st century and for future focus and direction.
Each day, the prayer was shared in a different language, and although the words may have been foreign, the spirit of the prayer was understood by all. The language barriers were broken down by this spirit of community.
The three main days of the conference broke down the phrase “Sent to Preach the Gospel.” Each day a different word from the phrase was brought into focus. The first day focused around the word GOSPEL, the second around the word PREACH, and the third around the word SENT.
Each day keynote addresses were given by members and friends of the family to spark discussion during the small group workshops. People from throughout the world were broken up into smaller language groups to discuss the theme for the day within the context of their focus and ministry. At days end, the members of the congress returned together to take part in a panel discussion. This involved hearing from presenters and giving members of the congress, as well as those around the world watching via live stream video, opportunity to respond to the presenters and ask questions.
On the first day of the conference, we focused on naming the issues that face the world today and how Dominicans can respond to these “signs of the times.” The keynote address of the first day revolved around seeing each human as a “gospel and sacred text” and to interact with humanity in a way that allows us to bring God to those we meet. These discussions will serve as a focus for serious reflection in the coming months by the scientific committee and will be published to allow for future contemplation of these issues. After the panel discussion, the congress moved together throughout Rome on a pilgrimage to the evening’s mass being celebrated in Santa Sabina.
Day 2 focused on preaching utilizing the Media, Non-Governmental Officials, Preaching as Dialogue, and Education. The keynote address stressed how preaching is an encounter with the other, and the formal and informal nature of preaching through body language and common conversation. As a show of interreligious community and dialogue, members of the congress prayed with the Jewish community of Rome in the Roman Synagogue. This was a very inspiring and deeply powerful moment in the conference and spoke to the theme of humanity and connectedness that went throughout the congress.
Day 3 centered on the theme of being sent and what that means to each of us. The keynote address posed the questions, “To what are we sent? To where are we sent? What does it really mean to be sent?” Small group conversations focused on how we are each sent and where we are sent to. Fr. Bruno spoke on how being sent should be seen as a deep listening to the will of God and to watch, wait, and assist in the birth and rebirth of humanity.
In addition, Sister Luma Kudhar from Iraq and a Dominican Sister from Nigeria shared their stories of being sent and their responses to the signs of the times especially in areas filled with trouble and violence. These were some of the most powerful presentations of the congress and caused an overwhelming response of the congress members to stand and applaud showing the support and compassion of the international family and putting in perspective the real mission of the Dominican Order to find practical and new ways to bring the Gospel to the world.
On workshop day, the focus was on reflection and prayer. The small group discussions centered on how each individual felt their call, how they feel they are being sent and what they heard and experienced throughout the conference. The panel on this day represented four different parts of the Dominican Family; Friars, Contemplative Nuns, Apostolic Sisters, and the Dominican Laity. Friar Bruno gave three convictions that should be kept; preaching, fraternity, and encounter. He said “The conviction of preaching is not limited to the liturgical homily, but is seen in different modes of expression to bring God who is longing to have a conversation with humanity and that preaching leads us to the heart of the world. It is in the encounter with the other where this conversation can be made, and this compels us to leave our bubbles and comforts with a sense of urgency to respond to the issues of the time.”
As part of this closing prayer, each individual wrote their feelings of being sent and where they are being called. These were collected and, as a closing ritual, each individual chose another person’s card in order to pray for his or her intentions of mission as we all prepared to return to our home communities and countries. This was a powerful exercise in communal prayer and the interconnectedness of the family and its reliance on the prayers of each other.
At the culmination of the congress, all members were invited to participate in a Papal Mass concelebrated by Dominican friars celebrating the closing of the 800th Jubilee of the Order. Over 2500 people were present from throughout the world to participate and pray together for the future of the order. The spirit of community was alive and well and the discussions and conversations shared gave everyone great hope that the PREACHING DOES AND WILL CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD!